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“I think we’d go out together,” Mike Bryan told TENNIS Magazine in 2016, when asked about his brother and fellow doubles savant, Bob. “We’ve got a special bond.”
On Wednesday, the most successful doubles team in tennis history, and two of the most decorated American players ever, made a joint statement on Tennis Channel: 2020 will be their final year on tour.
"We wanted to see if we wanted to keep going," Mike announced on Tennis Channel Live, "and we've decided that 2020, at the [US] Open, we're going to shut it down.
"One more season—and we're excited for it."
When a player announces an impending or immediate retirement, that player is typically well past their win-by date, their prime years a memory and the message a formality. That couldn’t be further from the Bryans’ situation. The 41-year-old identical twins reached three finals in 2019 and won the prestigious Miami Open. As recently as July, Mike was ranked No. 1 in the ATP doubles rankings. And even though they’re watching the Nitto ATP Finals this week, they could actually be playing in London, had they not elected to end their season at the US Open.
It’s same tournament at which they’ll end their career, next season.
"Obviously, very difficult decision, big decision—we've been on tour for 21 years, more than half our lives," said Bob. "Tennis is in our blood, so a part of us feels like it's dying."
The US Open was also the tournament where the Bryans began their career, all the way back in 1995. In the 24 years since, they’ve set nearly every significant doubles record, often obliterating previous marks. They have established standards of longevity and prosperity that may never be matched again. As a team, Bob and Mike have not finished outside of the year-end Top 10 since 2000. They’ve won a record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together, and over 1,100 matches, with a career winning percentage exceeding 75 percent.
“I would say the most satisfying win was 2009, winning the ATP World Tour Finals,” Bob recalled. “We finished No. 2 the year before to [Nenad] Zimonjic and [Daniel] Nestor, and we were just devastated. Mathematically, we had a shred of a chance of finishing No. 1 when we arrived in London. We needed them to help us out by losing a bunch and then we needed to win the tournament. It came down to just that, and we ended up finishing No. 1 in the world by about 35 ranking points.”
Bob and Mike have played for each other, of course, but also for their country when called upon. In Davis Cup, the Bryans were the rare doubles team that was selected to a four-man roster. While doing so limited a team’s flexibility during a tie, Bob and Mike were such a sure thing in the competition—they boast a 24-5 record in Davis Cup—that U.S. captains Patrick McEnroe and Jim Courier went ahead with it anyway.
After winning bronze for the red, white and blue at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Bryans won gold in London (at Wimbledon) four years later. They’ll have another chance at a medal this summer, in Tokyo.
“Winning the gold transcended tennis, and becoming a part of a special club of gold-medal winners,” said Mike. “It seemed like we got more recognition for that than for winning Wimbledon or any other Slam.”
As hard as the brothers have fought on the court, their off-court pursuits were met with equal passion. They are dedicated musicians. They are charitable athletes, giving back to deserving children in Southern California with The Bryan Brothers Foundation. And they are relentless advocates of doubles—most notably in 2005, when Bob and Mike felt the ATP wasn’t giving players in the discipline a fair financial and promotional shake. They sued the tour in a federal antitrust lawsuit.
“If we don’t unite, there may not be a game of doubles,” said Mike.
Like in so many of their matches, the Bryans achieved their goal, as the lawsuit was dismissed.
In the time since, the game of doubles has grown, and the Bryans have thrived along with it. There’s no reason to believe that 2020 will be any different. While the finish line is in sight, Bob and Mike won’t be taking a victory lap to get there. But there will undoubtedly be more victories along the way.